Fourth day of Commonwealth Games competition.
52 days of campaigning to go.
As the new Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon has the prime purpose of flitting about authoritatively, blowing smoke in his wake to fool foreign powers into thinking the UK can still afford to be a military heavyweight. But are the red, white and blue fumes trailing behind him the self-confident splurge of unabashed patriotism, or the noxious toot of the cheap propagandist?
I know cynicism is the cheese-grater of the soul, but it’s hard to resist an upward tug of the eyebrow at the apparent last-minute switch of smoke colours for the Red Arrows’ Commonwealth Games flypast. Jings, the planes themselves are red enough to blister the eyeballs, so sticking to the host nation’s blue-and-white, which was easy-peasy for them when they saluted the inaugural Scottish Parliament in 1999, would simply have evened things up a bit.
So was this another in the endless series of “misunderstandings” that always tilt one way, or was it Mr Fallon implementing the Government policy of “being childishly vindictive to the Scots and then blaming them for nit-picking”? To find out, I suppose we’ll have to wait for the 2014 Cabinet papers to be released in 30 years’ time, or, if Scottish independence is deemed a national security threat, 100 years. Until then, we’ll have to content ourselves with ping-pong Twitter discussions that themselves drag on for 100 years, or until the participants block each other, whichever comes first.
The tone of the week was set by over-promoted solicitor Alistair Carmichael, who issued a pompous warning to Alex Salmond about politicising the Games. This, of course, was a subtle use of the word “politicising”, known only to Whitehall mandarins with twisted minds. It includes anything any Yes supporter, under the First Minister’s pernicious thought control, might say, think or do that makes the Telegraph feel queasy. However, it excludes any arguments or symbols the UK Government or its hench-people might use in support of the constitutional status quo, which is obviously an excellent thing, blessed by all respectable deities and our only bulwark against savagery.
According to the rules, if you try to enter an arena with the flag of a non-competing nation, the thought police are entitled to nick it off you. You’ll be un-gobsmacked to learn that this prohibition doesn’t cover the Union Jack, which is why persons unknown, but no doubt you can guess who, were in the streets around Celtic Park on Wednesday handing out bizarre “half-and-half” Saltire/Union Jack flags straight from the laboratory of Dr Frankenstein. The tolerance for that old red, white and blue also extends to the helmets of the English cycling team, unless there’s been a pigeon circling the velodrome with a colourful diet and an uncanny aim.
Despite the best efforts of the BBC, whose conspicuously bussed-in presenters still light candles for the glory that was London 2012 and pine for the days when the “Home Nations” were a giant Team GB love-in, Scotland is most definitely a competing nation. So you’re allowed to take in a Saltire, even if the thought of it gives Alistair Darling conniptions. In fact, I’d do it just because it does. But emblazon it with a controversial message such as “YES”, or even “Personally, I prefer Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers” and you risk being sentenced to five months tied to a chair with Councillor Gordon Matheson yelling at you.
Sport is mankind’s favourite metaphor for war and a handy tool for our leaders to distract us from their nefarious pauchling, so no amount of boil washing is ever going to get politics out of it. I’ll bet there were even placards at the ancient Olympics saying “Pericles is a twat” and “I wish that fat git Socrates would drink hemlock”. With a key moment in the nation’s history hurtling towards us like a meteor, asking for the Commonwealth Games not to become politicised is like expecting water to flow uphill. It’s just a question of whether you do the politicising subtly, or give it laldy until there’s nothing left but a smouldering teacake wrapper.
The First Minister seems to have gone for the former approach, following some tongue-in-cheek remarks about Glasgow being “Freedom City” which sadly underestimated his critics’ sense of humour deficit. Since then he’s said very little, apart from congratulating and being photographed with medal winners, including, bizarrely, the England bowls team. This is, of course, a calculated political stance, which we might describe as “genial host associated with success”, or “waiting for the other side to make all the mistakes”.
By contrast, the UK Government has stuck to the strategy it knows best, ”petty tinkering and honking double standards”, plus a new habit of bribing Glasgow with financial inducements every five minutes. Meanwhile, some of its chums in the press have gone for the “ignorant drivel” approach, belching out risible articles trying to portray Scots as racist. English competitors seeking advice on how to cope with being booed? Clyde, the Games mascot, intended by its 12-year-old designer specifically to piss off the English? Aye, right. Hope you’re enjoying the Friendly Games, ya complete poltroons.
Ach well, in a few days the bandwagon will have departed and the Machiavellian spin-meisters on both sides will find, to their utter amazement, that none of this Games-playing has made a jot of difference to undecideds. At least, not one that will show up in the opinion polls and make Professor Curtice’s hair fizz with sparks.
But subconsciously? Who knows? Nobody reckoned on the competitors themselves stepping up and delivering a belting, record-breaking performance laced with dramatic comebacks and inspiring personal stories. There must be only so many times people can see that, or hear Flower Of Scotland associated with success, or watch a crowd waving Saltires and shouting “Yes”, before they reach a tipping point and realise that maybe Scots aren’t all that crap after all.
Be afraid, Blair McDougall, be very afraid….